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How a Norfolk charity is using Pokemon GO to help people with autism

PUBLISHED: 17:49 06 April 2019 | UPDATED: 18:03 06 April 2019

Caleb Peloe, 11, left, and his friend Kai Goodson, 10, hunting Pokemon at Whitlingham Country Park, as part of the ASD Helping Hands charity's Walk for Autism. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Caleb Peloe, 11, left, and his friend Kai Goodson, 10, hunting Pokemon at Whitlingham Country Park, as part of the ASD Helping Hands charity's Walk for Autism. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2019

It made for an unusual sight - people clutching mobile phones, walking around a beauty spot, hunting for creatures with names such as Pikachu, Sandshrew, Swablu and Surskit.

Pokemon Go is being used to help people with autism.
 Picture: ANTONY KELLYPokemon Go is being used to help people with autism. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

For those not in the know, it must have been a bit baffling.

But for more than 300 fans of the popular mobile game Pokemon GO, it was a day to remember at Whitlingham Country Park.

The game sees people use their phones to catch creatures and evolve them into new forms.

And Niantic, the developers of Pokemon GO joined forces with Dereham-based charity ASD Helping Hands for Saturday’s special event at the park on the edge of Norwich.

Pokemon Go players at Whitlingham Country Park ready to hunt Pokemon as part of the ASD Helping Hands charity's Walk for Autism. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYPokemon Go players at Whitlingham Country Park ready to hunt Pokemon as part of the ASD Helping Hands charity's Walk for Autism. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

ASD Helping Hands was set up in 2010 and supports more than 1,300 families, mainly in Norfolk and Suffolk, who are affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders.

And their Walk For Autism event around the park, meant Pokemon GO players were able to take part in a selection of special in-game activities, with extra locations and bonuses for game players.

Players also uploaded pictures of Pokemon at the park to Twitter, using the #WalkForAutism hashtag.

The event came towards the end of World Autism Awareness Week, from April 1 to April 7.

Jan Robertson hunting Pokemon at Whitlingham Country Park, as part of the ASD Helping Hands charity's Walk for Autism. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYJan Robertson hunting Pokemon at Whitlingham Country Park, as part of the ASD Helping Hands charity's Walk for Autism. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Lee Gibbons, operations manager at ASD Helping Hands, said: “The reason for it being Pokemon GO is that we have worked with several youngsters who had become socially isolated.

“They refused to leave their homes, which has an impact on their mental health.

“We’ve used Pokemon GO to connect them back to the community.

“Through the app, they can meet like-minded people and it encourages them to get out.”

Luke Beckett, 12, hunting Pokemon at Whitlingham Country Park, as part of the ASD Helping Hands charity's Walk for Autism. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYLuke Beckett, 12, hunting Pokemon at Whitlingham Country Park, as part of the ASD Helping Hands charity's Walk for Autism. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Mr Gibbons said his communications officer Ben Thomas had got in touch with Niantic to put on the event.

He said: “It went really well. We had about 300 to 350 young people and adults taking part.

“It also enabled us to raise awareness of what we do as a charity and to raise some money.”

He said the event had raised £800 for the charity, which will be matched by Niantic to push it up to £1,600.

Luke Gilding, 12, left, along with his brother, Jake, 11, centre, and Lewis Wakefield, 13, hunting Pokemon during a 'raid' at Whitlingham Country Park, as part of the ASD Helping Hands charity's Walk for Autism. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYLuke Gilding, 12, left, along with his brother, Jake, 11, centre, and Lewis Wakefield, 13, hunting Pokemon during a 'raid' at Whitlingham Country Park, as part of the ASD Helping Hands charity's Walk for Autism. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Mr Gibbons said there is currently a three to four year wait for an autism diagnoses in Norfolk and the money would help the charity support people in need of help.

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